I attended a screening and panel discussion of “Boys and Men Healing,” a documentary about male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The event was held as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and organized by the Men’s Peer Education Program at Columbia University and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Crime Victims Treatment Center (CVTC). It was co-sponsored by the Columbia University School of Social Work Men’s Caucus and MaleSurvivor.org.
Phew…credits done. Now the meat. What a film and what an event. Overall striking in a number of ways especially in bringing to light the unique and profound experience of males who have been sexually abused and the needs they have that go largely unmet or unrecognized. In addition, as a social work student I became aware of the pivotal role social workers can and do play in this area. Social workers should feel empowered to know that a social worker founded the CVTC at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and social workers are very involved with MaleSurvivor. But the need is still there.
The film followed three adult survivors. It explored the history of their abuse, how it affected them and where they are now. All three men are doing work to heal themselves and others. At the beginning of the film was a poignant line from one of these three, Tony Rogers; “Childhood rape separated me from my spirit.” This quote embodies the disempowering effect of such heinous acts. A common theme for male victims is the fear and discomfort in seeking help and the emasculation that is associated with reaching out for assistance. But Rogers put it best when he stated “I didn’t know asking for help would make me powerful.” He went on to help form a group of male survivors who share their experiences and support each other. The footage of the group was especially moving and was a hopeful sight.
Survivor David Lisak is currently a successful forensic psychologist. Perhaps the most compelling moment of the film for me was watching Lisak visit a client in prison who was on death row. This man was also a survivor of sexual abuse but clearly his life took a very different path than Dr. Lisak’s. Watching them communicate and share through safety class and bars made me wish I could paint or draw to truly capture that image and feelings I had from observing it. Both men had vicious acts perpetrated against them and it lead to their being on opposite sides of those bars, opposite sides of life, one man became a healer and advocate and the other a murderer and silenced even further. Dr. Lisak made it clear though that it is a fine line that separates these two paths.
Near the end of the film Mark Crawford, one of the men featured in the film and a panelist at the discussion stated, “Men need to have hope, and when you have hope you will heal.” Hope is key but those labeled victims often have trouble finding that hope and they should not be alone in trying to attain it.
On January 29, 2011 I had the pleasure to help facilitate Columbia University School of Social Work’s (CUSSW) first ever skills-based conference on criminal justice titled “Removing the Bars.” The Criminal Justice Caucus at CUSSW, of which I am a member put together and sponsored this conference that despite some resistance and numerous logistical considerations proved to be a great success. The conference was a full day of workshops, a panel of formerly incarcerated individuals and their family discussing their experiences, and a plenary session on the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” where The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-NY presented. Among my responsibilities I was able to recruit my professor, Markus Redding JD MSW to speak on the problem solving courts of New York City and how social workers are, can be, and should be involved the court system.
The conference brought in students from various schools, professionals in the fields of law, social work, and criminal justice as well as community members. The diversity of attendance spoke to the need for these issues to be explored and part of the beauty of the conference was that new or uncovered issues were raised that can be addressed at future events. At the end of the day I let out a giant sigh of relief and satisfaction. It was a lot of work that proudly exemplified collaboration across caucuses at CUSSW and I believe the work was all worth it. I look forward to helping bring the conference back in future years. Check out the Criminal Justice Caucus blog to read more about it.
We also had really cool t-shirts!
As I have mentioned I have begun studying for my master’s degree in social work. I will nonchalantly remind everyone that I am pursuing this degree at Columbia University. Do pride and arrogance really have to look that much alike? Since October 2007 I had been working at the Boulder County Juvenile Assessment Center. Nice name yet somewhat inadequate description for the multi-faceted juvenile detention facility where I worked up until the end of July 2010.
Now I must state that the facility where I worked was very progressive and not nearly as punitive as most detention facilities. That said it was still detention, a locked facility staffed ‘round the clock. Juveniles wore detention scrubs and were transported in shackles and handcuffs (do not be shocked, when you are arrested you are put in handcuffs).
Now I am entering into a very therapeutic atmosphere. Social work school talks a lot about collaboration, self-awareness, and openness. All of this is very important however I have not seen a lot of discussion regarding assertiveness yet. It has been all of three weeks so who am I to complain. I have heard mention about difficult field placements toughening a student and growing a thicker skin but it tends to be discussed as more of a negative; a “this is what has to happen” sort of dynamic rather than elaborating on the benefit that can be gained by ensuring you maintain a balance between being smooth and being firm. I am a very strong believer and supporter of the search for balance.
We are taught about boundaries though the topic usually comes up when prompted by nervous questions regarding how much personal information a social worker should reveal to a client or whether it is okay to hug a student and similar queries.
I think one reason that I have begun to contemplate this is because I am noticing the influence of my detention work. While I have and continue to view myself as a non-confrontational individual who leans toward collaboration rather than authoritarian methods I do believe the latter has its place.
My first year field placement is at a middle school in the south Bronx. I believe it is safe to say that the majority of schools in New York City retain a harsher atmosphere than Oslo Middle School in Vero Beach, FL. I was ready to be shocked and taken aback and wildly nervous. I believe I am all of those things but not nearly to the level that I thought. I have been in the field all of two days so my views and understandings could and will change.
I do however notice that I do not gravitate toward the softer attitude or approach in the school. When discussing what to do with a student who is disruptive during a group session my first thought is of the various consequences: send back to class, send to dean, inform parent, and deprive of certain privileges. My supervisor’s response was to simply send them back to class and inform her if it continues and we would take it from there. My fellow interns, the different past experiences of whom I greatly admire, seemed unsure of a course of action though this could have just been my perception.
When a student came to the office and sat down with no explanation I remembered our supervisor telling us that students could not just spend time in the office as a way of avoiding something else. They needed an appointment, to be scheduled in a group or have a pass to set up an appointment. I engaged the girl, asked what class she had, what she needed and why she was not on her way to class. After her various vague answers I politely yet firmly told her she needed to go to class, that she could not hang out but to return if she needed to when she was not in class. This impressed a fellow intern yet seemed simply appropriate to me.
There were numerous other smaller examples (supporting a dean for having a student leave the assembly for speaking after being warned that if he spoke he would have to leave). I believe, especially with adolescents, that being open and available is just as important as being firm and steadfast. Follow through is very important and if a consequence is associated with a particular behavior not applying that consequence sends the wrong message.
I do not believe that “punitive” is the way to go. I believe in collaboration especially the collaboration between being firm and being open, between being conservative and liberal if you will allow me to make such a comparison. If I am willing to follow through on a reward I better be willing to follow through on a consequence and the other way around.
P.S. I must also note for my former co-workers that for someone who does not like and seeks to avoid confrontation I had to hold myself back from stepping in when students were being rowdy, this is no longer a part of my job…unless their rowdiness happens during something I am running. I also picked up a bent paperclip and threw it out…I cannot let contraband sit…even if I am in a place where it is not contraband.
Have you ever seen the movie “Toothless?” It was a Disney Channel Original Movie, the fancy description for Disney Channel’s TV movies. This is before “High School Musical,” Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus and so on. It starred Kristie Alley as a dentist who is lacking in the social and love life. She almost dies and becomes a/the tooth fairy. Where is my point, you ask? The movie says that once a kid loses the last of their baby teeth they lose their innocence, so when she returns to her life and removes the last baby tooth of the young boy who helped heal her heart he all of a sudden has no memory of his interactions with her as the tooth-fairy.
Again you are asking where my point may be?
I turn 25 on June 2 and on June 15 my last two baby teeth will be removed. Yes, I still have two baby teeth and finally, thanks to the help of a full time job’s dental benefits I have begun fixing the issue. What does this major dental transition coincide with? I will begin graduate school at Columbia in New York this fall. I have worked for Boulder County for nearly three years and lived here for nearly eleven. Time to move on, try something new, take a bigger risk than I ever have and all this will take place as I lose the last of my baby teeth. People are proud of me, excited for me, a little sad. Me? I am scared and uncomfortable and anxious and all I can think about are the two holes that will be left in my mouth after June 15. Is there more to this tooth issue then I have explained? Yes. Will the holes be there forever? No.
.transitions. There are so many things I love about change but it is a powerful force that still evokes anxiety in me. I want to make sure that as I move forward in my life I continue writing and blogging has been suggested by a few people now. Many people do it, I can barely bring myself to read any of them, so why not give it a shot myself. For the few technological strengths I have, posting on the internet (with the possible exception of Facebook) is not one of them. Readers, if I have or will have readers, please bare with me as I attempt this.